If you are seeking to legally adopt the child of your spouse, you are not alone. According to the 2010 census, 7% of all children under the age of 18 have been adopted by a stepparent, making stepparent adoption the most common form of all adoptions. But just because the process is common doesn't mean it is uncomplicated. If you are seeking an Oklahoma stepparent adoption, the Worden Law Firm is ready to help walk you through the process.
The Adoption Process for Oklahoma Stepparents
To begin the adoption process, you must first file a petition with the proper court. This can be done in the county that you live or in the county the child lives. Both you and your spouse must join in the adoption filing, even if your spouse is the child's biological parent.
In most cases, obtaining the consent of your spouse won't be difficult. However, you will need the consent of both of the child's current parents to terminate the parental rights of the other biological (or possibly, adoptive) parent. This is frequently the major bottleneck in a stepparent adoption case. There are two ways in which you can terminate the parental rights of the other current parent and move forward with the stepparent adoption.
Consent of the Biological Parent
The easiest and fastest way is to terminate the parental rights of the other current parent through mutual agreement. Some parents are open to giving up their rights, but every case is different. The other parent may be willing to consent given that the final order will end their obligation to pay child support in the future. Please note that if the other biological (or possibly, adoptive) parent is deceased you only need the consent of your spouse.
If both current parents consent in writing, a stepparent adoption can be a relatively quick process. If both the biological parents of the child you wish to adopt are on board, an experienced Oklahoma family law attorney can walk you through what happens next.
Termination of Parental Rights through Court Order
Not every parent will be willing to voluntarily sign away their parental rights, however. This is frequently the case even though the biological parent has little to no interaction with or involvement in the life of their child. Under certain conditions, the court will terminate the parental rights of a natural parent without their consent.
This can occur in cases where the parent has failed to provide for the child, has abandoned the child, or has failed to maintain a positive relationship with the child for 12 of the prior 14 months. Termination of parental rights will end a natural parent's right to custody and absolve them of paying any future child support. A termination will not erase any past child support owed, however. The termination of parental rights requires a court hearing, and it is strongly recommended that you have legal counsel to represent you.
Final Orders in an Oklahoma Stepparent Adoption
Once you have obtained consent from the other parent or prevailed in a termination hearing, you are approaching the end of the process. When all of the requirements are met, the court will set a final hearing in which your attorney will ask you a series of formal questions regarding the adoption. At that hearing, the judge will sign the final order that formally grants you the rights of a parent.
Requirements for Related Adoption
Referred to as “Related Adoption” in Oklahoma, stepparent adoptions must meet certain criteria before they are allowed to proceed. You must be legally married to your spouse for at least 1 year before you are eligible to adopt his or her children. This process is typically more streamlined than “unrelated adoptions” and generally does not require lengthy home studies or waiting periods.
Legal Effects of Adoption in Oklahoma
Under Oklahoma law, the adoption of a stepchild confers onto the stepparent all of the rights and responsibilities of a birth parent. In other words, you will have the same rights under the law as if you were the child's natural parent. In addition to the rights regarding custody and parental decision making that a stepparent will gain, there is also a financial responsibility that attaches as well.
As an adoptive stepparent, you will be charged with providing for the child's emotional, mental, physical, social, educational and financial needs. The child will also inherit from you as if they were your own natural child. Additionally, an adoption may provide a blended family with a tighter bond moving forward.
Changing the Surname of an Adopted Child
While changing your child's name can be a lengthy process in some instances, that is not the case following an adoption. To change your child's surname and amend an Oklahoma birth certificate, the final adoption decree must reflect the name change. Once the Oklahoma State Department of Health receives a copy of the final decree, they will make the necessary changes to state records.
How an Experienced Oklahoma Family Law Attorney can Simplify the Stepparent Adoption Process
While the process of stepparent adoption is much simpler than in a so-called “unrelated adoption,” the process isn't without complication. Because of the legal technicalities you might encounter, it is advised that you hire an experienced Oklahoma family law attorney to guide you through the process. An attorney can help you avoid the errors and missed paperwork that can drag out the adoption process.
If you are seeking to adopt the child of your spouse in Oklahoma, let the family law experts at the Worden Law Firm help. At the Worden Law Firm, we have years of experience bringing families together through the adoption process.
Our attorneys are experienced in every step of the process, from seeking the consent of the other natural parent to persuading the court that the termination of parental rights is in the best interest of the child. We know how important growing your family is, and we are excited to help you with that process. To discuss the stepparent adoption process, contact the Worden Law Firm today to schedule a consultation.